Saturday, 15 June 2002
Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time (2001)
Review number: 1096
There are some Discworld novels in which it feels as though Terry Pratchett has got into something of a rut; this is not one of them. The ideas behind it have sources in real world popular culture, as is common in the series; in this case, kung fu movies are a major one. The plot is also not particularly surprising; it is a continuation of the conflict between Death, Pratchett's most popular character, and the Auditors, who want the Universe to be logical and consistent, and certainly not containing an anthropomorphism who cares. (They first appear in Reaper Man, one of my favourite Discworld novels.) Here, they have decided that Life is the problem, and their solution is to freeze time so that the universe becomes still and orderly. They cannot do this directly, but they can encourage a human being to produce a kind of clock which taps into the basic time pulse of the universe and, by so doing, stops it.
The particular human they choose is an obsessive compulsive clockmaker in Ankh-Morporkh, who spends his time in pursuit of the ultimate clock. Ranged against them are an order of Buddhist-style monks, who practise martial arts and meditate on koans like "There is a time and a place for everything", Death's daughter Susan and the usual assortment of bizarre supporting characters which are the trademark of Pratchett's fiction. The best of these is the fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, the one who left before they became famous.
Like several recent Discworld novels, Thief of Time is an exciting rather than a purely humorous narrative, and is the most successful in this line so far. There are occasional very funny moments, but the story was to me more compelling. Pratchett has now definitely broken through the boundaries of the humorous fantasy novel subgenre, and written something much more real - a literary feat.